Although I have made it a point to try not to write in particularly crazy times, I am aware that this is a crazy time for you. I hope you will forgive me for writing you in such a difficult time, and I hope that I can give you some encouragement that will help make the next few years a bit easier to take. You are about to enter high school, and there are going to be some changes. Some of these you foresee, indeed, some of them are what led you to choose to leave the small town you grew up in and seek your way in the city. Given that you are embarking on what will be a lengthy period of semi-nomadic life, I feel it necessary to give you some sort of advice on how this works, and I hope you will not be offended or think me presumptuous for giving you advice on this matter. You will live in many places, and will find wonderful people in each. You will also drag your oversized baggage with you, and not just your personal library either, and none of the places you visit will ever be entirely home. Someday you will come to understand where this longing for home comes from, but I would like to urge you to investigate this matter now, as you will spend many years writing and reflecting on the sense of exile that you live under. You are a romanticist, even if you don’t know what that is, an intellectual with powerful emotional longings that you seek to understand and master, before they bring too much chaos and difficulty into your own life. Like C.S. Lewis, whose Chronicles of Narnia you have already read, and like the German Goethe, you have a dream of the blue lotus of home and belonging, and that quest will send you on a lengthy journey to find home. I wish you to know, for your own sanity, that the home you seek cannot be found on this earth, not that it is the fault of any of the people you meet and befriend along the way. Most of them are looking for home too, and are as successful as you are at it, even if they hide it better.
I wish to speak about one aspect of that romantic longing now, although I do so gingerly, because I am aware that it is a sensitive area. Without going into too much painful detail, you need to find some way of controlling your romantic longings and keeping them from causing trouble. I must admit this is a skill I struggle to master even now, but it is of particular importance to you. For example, I know that right now you are grieving over what has happened with Christy because of the breakup of the church. I know she was a close friend of yours, one of those nice girls I told you about in my last letter , and I know that you loved her. I wish I could tell you that love was something that worked out wonderfully and easily, but I cannot. Love is something you will struggle with for a long time, and how I wish my heart was wiser. Even so, I wish to give you at least some comfort about her, even if I cannot give as much comfort about you. Christy will be fine. Someday she will marry and have a family of her own, although I would ask of you to pray about the health of her and her family. I know you will keep them in mind and keep them in your prayers for their well-being, even if you no longer attend church together or keep in touch. I know I can trust you to keep someone in mind, and to wish the best for them, long after any communication is gone. I would wish you were better at preserving communication with the people you care about, but it seems pointless to complain about such a universal problem. I know that I can trust you to be understanding and compassionate to others, and so I ask that you keep her in your prayers, even as you grieve the loss of the flirtatious friendship that you had.
Speaking of flirtation, I feel like a bit of a hypocrite for pointing this out, but it would be wise of you to keep a tight rein on it. I know you greatly enjoy flirtation, and I know that you flirt unconsciously and aren’t deliberate about it, but it is of the utmost importance that you keep control of it. Thinking about the next year of your life is one of painful reflections for me, but it would be very good if you could avoid making any of the following mistakes over the course of the next few months: not hitting on your best friend’s girlfriend when spending an afternoon at her house, not writing any lists of girls you happen to find attractive, not writing books of amorous poetry about your classmates at school. I know you may think you are just being funny or perhaps a bit suave and romantic, but none of these things end well at all. Years from now you will still be answering questions about what you do this next year, and you will acquire a reputation for bungling romantic situations that is hard to shake. Believe me, I’ve tried. It would be good for your sense of personal dignity, state of mind and heart, and self-esteem if you avoided making too much of a fool out of yourself when it came to the pretty girls around you. I know, it’s hard, and it will continue to be hard for a very long time, but I would not risk the hypocrisy of giving you this advice if it was not worth it. The habits you develop when you are young are carried with you a long time, and quite honestly, some of those habits scare me and keep me awake sleepless at night, with a sense of deep horror and self-loathing. Also, if you could keep away from any ceiling fans in the near future, that would be really good too. You’ll understand why soon enough.
I wish I had more happy news and advice to share, but high school is not a very fun time for you. It’s like serving a term in prison, something I have been fortunate enough to avoid so far, but I think it is an apt metaphor nonetheless, and I hope you will forgive me for being a bit melodramatic about it. At any rate, since you are prepared for the long haul, to gut out a difficult experience with endurance, something which I wholeheartedly praise you for and appreciate your tenacity of character in so doing, I feel it would be good to give you some encouragement in the task you have set out for yourself. Your hard work over the next few years will pay off, and you will have a chance to live a better life than you knew as a child, even if life is going to be hard for a while. Avoid student loans like the plague. I will remind you about this in my next letter, but the sooner you have the warning in your head, the better this will go. Like most things in your life, student loans are a curse that is hard to shake. I don’t know why you attract this kind of curse, but it’s really annoying and I wish it wasn’t so. It’s not all your fault, at least, so I hope you don’t think I’m just being harsh and blaming you for all of this difficulty. You will do well in your classes, you will win trophies and awards and draw attention to yourself from colleges all around the world. I want you to glory in the fact that you will be bombarded with mail from colleges you have never heard of, that will want you to attend their campus and study under their professors. It is a glorious thing to be wanted and to be loved and to be appreciated. Revel in it, albeit privately, and never forget that for at least one brief moment in life what you had to offer the world was obvious and plainly apparent to all. It has not always been so, and it will not always be so in the future. You might as well take comfort when it is so.
Sometimes I wonder about this whole writing to the past thing. All of your life, you have had a strong sense of deja vu, a proclivity for a vivid and unusual dream life, and a strong tension between a firm belief in destiny and an equally strong belief in personal responsibility and free will overcoming the cycles of the past. You know what cycles I am talking about, so I do not feel it necessary to belabor the point. Nevertheless, sometimes I wonder if writing you these letters only exacerbates your own native tendency to have a vague awareness that something is about to go horribly wrong but see no way of avoiding the inevitable disaster. People who lack foresight and are foolishly optimistic are at least spared the harm of anticipating danger, but you are not so fortunate. No, you anticipate danger, and it ends up being even worse than you imagined it to be in your fevered nightmares. I wish I knew of a way to solve this problem, but I do not. I feel that all of the wisdom I give you will not steer your path away from all of the dangers you face, some of which you are vaguely aware of, some of which you know very well, and some of which like shoals just under the surface will catch you entirely unawares. Is it wrong of me to give you material to worry about, knowing that you will worry anyway and that the worry will be profitless because what is done is done and cannot be undone? In writing you as I have, I seek to give you counsel and encouragement in the knowledge that you will eventually become who I am now, and that by coming to terms with the past and by recognizing it, and by being merciful to my younger versions of myself, who I would be friends with because you really are good company, regardless of your occasional social awkwardness, I may forgive myself for the blunders I have made. I hope you understand I have nothing against you–no one expects teenagers to be wise, least of all myself, but we who are adults have to be wise enough for them and for ourselves, and that is not something that can always be taken for granted. We must act for the best interests of those who are younger and more vulnerable than we ourselves are even when it hurts. I know you understand this now, and you will continue to reflect on it. Anyway, I hope you forgive my rambling, but I really do wonder often if I am helping you at all by giving you this advice about how to deal with adversity, concerned it will only make you worry more, when what I wish is for you to be encouraged and strengthened and cautioned rather than terrified and even more burdened.
I would like to close with a word of encouragement. I want you to be grateful to God for the next few years. I know I have spent quite a bit of time and effort telling you how difficult the time will be, but you have a lot to be grateful for in ways that will take a while to understand. For one, despite your social awkwardness, you will end your years in high school far better than you began them. While your writing will bring you stress, it will also provide a way out of that stress, and will give you the opportunity to find respect among those who read what you write, even if many people will continue to misunderstand you. It is the curse of all artists, and make no mistake, you are an artist. Despite the stress and difficulty you face, God will protect you from harm. You will not do any drugs, become addicted to smoking or alcohol, you will not commit any crimes, you will be delivered from murderous classmates (this is not an exaggeration, sadly), and you will be largely kept from harm. Praise God for it, and show that you appreciate the deliverance he brings you, even in those seasons of life where it appears that deliverance is far away. Also, your time will give you empathy for those who suffer, and for teenagers you will meet later on. Your empathy for others will be an unexpected source of continuing blessing for you, and hopefully for those around you. In that light, I wish to remind you as always to be empathetic towards your brother–it’s not like the next few years are going to be a cakewalk for him, since he moved up to Pennsylvania in the belief that his presence would be an encouragement to your father. I know now much the thought of living with your father for more than a few months is a source of latent horror, and you are not unjustified in feeling that, although I do not wish to go into the gory details at this time. Since you feel this horror, please do endeavor to show your brother some compassion because of the burden he has taken upon himself. Your family does deserve to be the recipient of the empathy that you so richly give to your friends and romantic interests. I trust you will feel what is right even when you have trouble showing it, and remember that I am always with you, and you are always with me.
Nathan Bennett Albright
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